Understanding Leukaemia; Types, Symptoms, and Treatment
Leukaemia is a type of cancer of the blood-forming cells made in the bone marrow. What leukaemia does, is that it creates larger numbers of white blood cells that will crowd the bone marrow and affect the production level of normal cells. In turn, this weakens overall health as well as the immune system.
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Someone with this condition may pick up infections and viruses more easily as well as having a harder time getting rid of them. According to studies in the UAE, cancer is the third leading cause of death in the UAE and only surpassed by heart disease and accidents. An average of twelve people is diagnosed with cancer daily.
There is no exact known cause of leukaemia and research on this medical condition is still actively ongoing so that we can eventually identify and understand the more direct causes of it.
Symptoms of Leukaemia
Symptoms of leukaemia will vary between different people. They also depend on how much cancer has developed and what stage you’re at. The symptoms often happen quickly and very sudden. This is an indication that your health condition is out of the ordinary.
If these symptoms occur, speak with your medical practitioner immediately:
- Weakness and looking dull
- Pale skin
- Easily falling ill and getting infections
- Prone to bleeding easily
- Bleeding from the gums and nose without any cause
- Tiredness, fatigue, and breathlessness due to low red blood cells (occurs in advanced stages of leukaemia)
- Bruising easily without any noticeable reason
- Painful bones and aching joints when moving or staying still
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Swollen lymph gland
- Abdominal discomfort and stomach cramping
The 4 Types of Leukemia
1. Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia (ALL)
This type of leukaemia mainly affects lymphocytes in the bloodstream. This is a type of white blood cell, and its main function is to protect the body from infections. This type of leukaemia stops them from working properly. Abnormal lymphocytes will crowd out healthy blood cells from developing and can cause serious infections to develop. ALL is most commonly diagnosed in children and is rare in adults.
2. Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL)
CLL also affects the lymphocytes but is slower progressing than ALL. And because of this, CLL is harder to identify, and people don’t usually know they have this condition after a long time after it is first developed. Most people are diagnosed with this condition when they are being examined for other health complications. This disease happens in adults and not in children.
3. Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML)
AML mainly affects the myeloid cells known as granulocytes. These cells are responsible for searching out infectious invaders in the blood and nearby tissue. AML occurs when there are too many young myeloid cells are produced not enough mature myeloid cells. In turn, the young myeloid cells will block and disrupt blood vessels. AML often happens during adulthood but can also occur in childhood.
4. Chronic Myeloid (CML)
This happens when there are too many mature myeloid cells and are not functioning properly. CML is distinguishable from the other types of leukaemia as it happens in two stages as opposed to one. In its first stage, abnormal cells will multiply, and in the second stage, it quickly changes and turns into AML.
Treatment of Leukaemia
- Chemotherapy – This is often the most popular and effective treatment for most cancers, leukaemia included. It works by destroying or stopping the growth of growing cancer cells. Chemotherapy is usually given intravenously or can be prescribed as tablets. For some people with active leukaemia, chemotherapy treatment may mean spending several weeks or months in hospital.
- Stem cell transplant – This transplant means you can also have much higher doses of chemotherapy than usual. It also means improving your chances of curing certain types of leukaemia or prolonging remission. After the chemotherapy treatment, you will be given a drip of your own stem cells or from that of a donor.
- Radiotherapy – For different types of leukaemia, radiotherapy helps to control symptoms as part of intensive treatment regimes. It is also common in treating cancer that occurs or has spread to the brain or spinal cord.
- All-trans-retinoic acid – this is a form of vitamin A that treats acute myeloid leukaemia. It is often taken in tablet form alongside chemotherapy treatment.
Regardless of whether leukaemia runs in the family, it is always important to live and maintain a healthy lifestyle. By doing this, you are preventing yourself from developing other harmful diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer.
To avoid developing cancer, diet and exercise properly, avoid smoking, harmful substances, and environments. If you ever have doubts or unsure what to do about your health, speak with your medical practitioner as they will point you in the right direction.
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